Emma is still Here - Thriller
A short fiction story inspired by someone who said, "you can tell a lot about a person by what they keep on their desk."
Image by Marcus Gjengaar
Walter keeps toys in the first drawer of his white, metal desk. He has a headless doll, a small, red car, and a music box. He works for Madison Healthcare Consulting Company; “If people died on a more consistent rate, costs would not fluctuate as much,” he thinks.
Walter types fast and talks to no one. He stops typing when he notices his reflection on the glass that separates his office from his coworker’s. He realizes that his glasses are tilted. Walter pushes his keyboard away, gets up, and runs to the women’s bathroom. Speechless, he stands in front of the bathroom mirror. He touches his moisturized skin and uses his fingers to brush his black hair. Suddenly, a door opens.
“Walter are you okay?” his coworker Jenny, a tall, Asian woman stands next to him. Walter turns around and looks at her puzzled. “Walter?” Jenny moves closer. “Walter?” Walter takes a step back.
“I… I’m sorry,” Walter says and runs out of the bathroom.
He returns to his desk, sanitizes his hands, picks up the next paper, and enters the information into the data system.
At 5 p.m., Walter gathers his stuff to go when his office phone rings. He picks up.
“Hi darling, how are you?” Liza, his mother, asks.
Walter zones out looking at the two photographs on his office wall. One is showing a girl sitting on her bed and playing with her doll, the other is from his high school graduation. “Good,” Walter responds, imitating the voice of a little girl.
“Walter? Who is this? May I speak to Walter, please?” Liza asks.
Walter hangs up. He gets up and starts wiping his desk. “Why hasn’t mom called,” he thinks. “I should give her a ring before I go; she might be worried about my upcoming appointment.” Walter dials Liza’s number on his office phone.
“Hello,” Liza answers.
“Hi, mom, how you’ve been? You haven’t called for days.”
“Sweetie, what are you talking about? I just called you. In fact, I’ve been calling your office everyday like always and a woman has been answering.”
Walter dressed in his usual black suit and pink tie, sits at his desk and starts typing. Ryan, his boss, comes by.
“Good morning, Walter.”
“Good morning, Ryan,” Walter continues to type.
“Always the first to be here, huh?” Walter does not lookup. “Listen, I’ve got some important data I need in the system today.” Ryan drops a bunch of papers on Walter’s desk. “I’ll split the work between you and Jenny. Give her half when she gets in, will you?” Ryan asks.
Walter looks at the pile of papers.
“Yes, yes, of course,” he says.
“Thank you, Walter.”
Ryan leaves, and Walter spins on his office chair. He then divides the pile of papers precisely in half and leaves one half on Jenny’s desk. Before taking lunch, Walter checks his reminders; four sticky notes sit on his wall next to the photographs, three pink and one blue. The pink are upcoming appointments; the blue says, “07/02, Emma’s birthday.”
During lunch, Walter eats his sandwich while staring at his music box. Jenny comes by his desk.
“Hey, thanks for leaving the papers earlier,” she says. Walter continues to chew. “This is nice,” Jenny points at the music box. “Is it a gift from your girlfriend?”
“Oh, well, it’s… it’s cute,” Jenny says.
“Thank you,” Walter responds, imitating the voice of a little girl.
Jenny laughs, “So, I wanted to ask you—”
Walter pauses for a second and looks down at his keyboard. “I have work to do. Do you mind?” he says.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were having lunch. I’ll just—” Jenny leaves.
Walter’s office phone rings.
“Hi sweetheart,” Liza says.
“Hi,” Walter responds, imitating the voice of a little girl.
“Walter?” Liza asks.
Walter hangs up.
On his way home from the office, he buys a kids’ meal from McDonald’s.
Jenny and Marie, a coworker from the second floor, are having coffee in the communal kitchen.
“You know what’s up with the new guy, Walter?” Jenny asks Marie.
“What do you mean?” Maria adds sugar to her coffee. “He’s always been kind of weird. Actually, there are rumors that he keeps toys on one of his desk drawers,” Marie says.
“I saw a music box yesterday! But I don’t know about other toys,” Jenny says.
“Well, then what are you talking about?” Marie asks.
“I saw him the other day in the women’s bathroom, and when I tried to talk to him, he ran out like a lunatic,” Jenny says.
“Well, maybe he felt embarrassed,” Marie adds more sugar.
“Yes, but yesterday he passed by my office and told me not to answer his office phone,” Jenny says.
“What?” Marie takes a sip of her coffee.
“Yes, and when I said I hadn’t done that, he just left and didn’t say anything else,” Jenny says.
“Well, just go talk to him. He might be going through something,” Marie says. “You should also invite him to the baby shower; everyone will be there.”
Right at that time, Walter walks in the kitchen, ignores them, and fills his water bottle in the fountain. He returns to his office when he hears his phone ring. He picks it up but remains silent. His throat is feeling dry, and he doesn’t wish to talk. He imagines his pharynx getting hydrated.
“Hi sweetie, are you there?” Liza asks. Walter opens his drawer and looks at the doll. “Hello,” Liza continues. Walter closes the drawer loudly. His coworkers turn and look in his direction. “Walter?” Walter pulls the cord of the phone and accidentally drops it. The line is cut.
He makes an apologetic gesture to his coworkers’, picks up the phone from the floor, and silences it for the rest of the day.
“Walter are you alright?” Jenny walks up to his desk.
“I’m fine,” he murmurs and continues typing.
“You know the other day in the bathroom—”
“What?” Walter stops and looks at her puzzled.
“Anyway, we’re holding a mini baby shower for my baby girl in the kitchen during lunch. Feel free to stop by and have some cake.”
Walter looks down at Jenny’s stomach.
“Are you excited to be a big brother?” Liza asks 6-year-old Walter.
9 months later.
Walter holds baby Emma.
“I love her mommy,” he says.
“You’re the best brother. One day she’ll be old enough to play with you,” Liza gives Walter a music box.
“What’s that mommy?” Walter looks at the music box.
“That will go in your sister’s room and you’ll play it for her when she cries.”
4 years later.
Emma sits in her bed, playing with her dolls. Walter comes in with his new camera.
“Smile,” says Walter.
Emma looks up and smiles. “It’s my birthday tomorrow.”
“I know,” says Walter. “What will you ask from mom?”
“A princess dress,” she says.
2 years later.
13-year-old Walter is chasing for 7-year-old Emma in the backyard.
He suddenly stops running. “This is boring; I’m faster than you. I always catch you.”
“One more time, Walter. I’ll run faster. You won’t get me this time,” says Emma.
“Ugh, fine,” Walter starts chasing Emma again.
Emma runs towards the street. “Catch me if you can,” she says.
“Emma, stop. Come back. We’re supposed to stay in the backyard,” he calls.
Hearing Walter, Emma stops abruptly in the middle of the road. A speeding car breaks. Emma hits the windshield and lands on her head, painting the road red.
“Walter? Are you listening?” Jenny asks.
“Um, yeah, yeah. Sure, I’ll be there,” he says.
“Great, see you then,” Jenny says and leaves.
Walter’s phone rings.
“Hello,” Walter says, imitating the voice of a little girl.
“Hi, this is Liza, Walter’s mother. I thought this was his office number. I’m just trying to talk to him; he never picks up his cell phone and—”
Walter hangs up; he opens his drawer and takes out his music box. “Why do I even have that?” he wonders.
Sixteen-year-old Walter is fighting with his mother.
“Walter, how many times have I told you not to enter this room? Get out now.” Walter takes Emma’s toys and runs out of her room. “Go do your homework please,” Liza yells from across the hallway.
“Mom, I’m moving out.”
At lunch, Walter heads down to the kitchen. A vanilla cake with pink frosting sits on the kitchen table. His coworkers are kissing and hugging Jenny. “Germs,” Walter thinks. “What if they all get sick and die?” Jenny offers Walter a piece of cake; he tastes it. “It’s underbaked,” he thinks.
Walter comes in late. He stares at the headless doll inside his office drawer. He picks up the doll, puts it on his lap, and looks at his reflection on the black desktop screen. His glasses are perfectly straight. “How are my parents doing,” he wonders. “My mom hasn’t called.”
5 years ago.
“Walter Cardon, Dr. Parson is ready for you.” Walter gets up from the waiting area and makes his way down the hallway to the doctor’s office.
“I’m glad you came for a second visit Mr. Cardon. Please take a seat.” Walter hesitates then sits at the edge of the chair. “So, you left your home nine years ago, and you said you have a new job in data entry, correct?” Walter nods. “So, when did the memory loss episodes start to happen?”
Later in the day, Walter heads to the meeting room for their Friday meeting. Everyone sits at the big round table, chatting while waiting for Ryan to brief them. Walter, who chose the seat closest to the door, is staring at his shiny black shoes. He suddenly sees his reflection on his left shoe. “I look cute,” he thinks. He starts to tap his shoes on the floor rhythmically.
“Good morning, everyone,” Ryan walks in, and the chatting stops. “Today, I’m going to—” Ryan stops and clears his throat. He looks at Walter. “Walter? Walter? Could you please stop?”
Walter lifts his head and looks at Ryan confused. Everyone stares at him. He nods and opens his notepad to take notes. While Ryan is talking, Walter is noticing the ink coming off the pen as he writes down each letter carefully.
Later in the day, while Walter is wiping down his desk, his phone rings. He pauses. He looks around, then slowly answers the phone.
“Madison Healthcare Consulting Company, this is Walter. How may I help you?”
“Walter, darling! Finally, I’ve been calling you for days now,” Liza says.
Walter presses the phone on his ear. “Oh, Walter is not here,” Walter says, imitating the voice of a little girl.
“What? I was just—”
Walter hangs up the phone. Before leaving the office, Walter throws the headless doll in the trashcan.
Walter walks furiously towards Jenny’s desk. “Why are you answering my office phone?” he yells at Jenny.
“Excuse me, what?”
“I said, why are you picking up my phone and not telling me? I’ve been trying to talk to my mother for days now,” Walter continues.
“Walter, what are you talking about?”
“Stop answering my mother’s phone calls, Jenny,” Walter screams and punches Jenny’s desk.
Everyone gathers around Jenny’s desk.
“Someone call Ryan,” says Marie.
Ryan appears in the distance. “What’s going on here?” he asks. “Walter?” Walter’s fists are tight. Ryan touches Walter’s back. “Walter, please follow me to my office.” Walter looks at Ryan. The crowd disperses. He follows Ryan to his office. “Please take a seat,” Ryan says.
“Is there something wrong?” Walter asks.
Ryan’s mouth drops. “Walter, you just screamed at Jenny and punched her desk.”
Walter shrugs his shoulders. “She’s been answering my phone calls, my mother’s phone calls! I’ve told her to stop, but she wouldn’t listen.” Walter gets up. “Actually, she should be the one--”
“Walter, please take a seat. You don’t seem to understand. You violated the code of conduct. I think you should take a few days off. In fact—"
Walter clenches his teeth, “In fact, I quit!” he yells and storms out.
He leaves the office, taking only the blue sticky note with him.
Walter wakes up early and looks at the blue note: “07/02, Emma’s birthday.”
He gathers all the toys from his bedroom and heads to his mother’s house.
Liza, a short, frail woman, opens the door.
Walter opens his arms and hugs her. “Mommy, will you buy me a princess dress?”